Chile's forward Mauricio Pinilla (L) challenges Brazil's midfielder Luiz Gustavo. Photo: Getty
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Much like the country, Brazil’s performance against Chile was both heaven and hell

Simon Schama bissects a tale of two halves: Brazil’s nail-biting victory over Chile.

Those of us who love Brazil know it’s heaven and hell and not much in between. Silky music, feijoada (a kind of heaven if cooked right) but also egrets wading in open sewage by the side of the road leading from Sao Paulo to the city; the kids who offer to “look after your car” in Rio, the alternative being they will really look after it.

So it was in the two halves of the Chile match. Musical moves: Neymar leaving defenders lead-booted; Fernandinho, skipping around; David Luiz getting his thigh round that ball at the goalmouth (even if it gets to be an OG); their midfield on some springy wire that pinged them back and forth on high voltage. Chile – tough, sinewy, and capable of seizing the moment as that equaliser proved. But as with many Brazilian sides their besetting sin is a kind of wounded vanity when the play goes against them. Scolari was evidently right to want to describe Chile as a “pain”. They know how to inflict it at the right moment. But that first half was so good, so fluid, so high voltage, so intense, that the players weren't the only ones drained at the end of it. I was reaching for the Gruner Veltliner for medical help.

And then in part two, it was as if a completely alien gang were wearing the yellow shirts; or they’d fallen under the influence of some Amazonian potion. Neymar disappeared. There were so many aimless long balls that I felt I was looking at Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England. The antelopes were being outrun, out-everythinged by the snappy terriers. The Brazilian midfield melted away. It was all very very strange. The one exception was Hulk for whom magnificent is inadequate – playing as though he knew everyone else had taken the day off to go to the beach and he’d have to do it all himself. Which he very nearly did. This way and that, brilliant swerves and feints. The terrier of terriers was Alexis Sancheza rush of hard, savvy energy; so dangerous, so suddenly. As regular time ebbed, it was impossible not to have mixed feelings. Chile settled for playing it out, but the Pinilla shot was so powerful it deserved to find the net. Extra time – just a lot of very tired men spending a lot of energy in courting fouls (and succeeding).

You felt for the goalkeepers: both had stirring games; both at penalty time were on the firing line; both produced nails bitten to the quick heroics of impulse (even if a lot of those penalties were aimed straight at them). In the end, poor Jara only just missed that goalpost-struck shot going sidelong into the net. There were Inca faces set in tragic stone. The Forro is heaving up north. But only those of us who were taught samba for our bar mitzvah can actually believe Brazil has what it takes to win this World Cup. On the other hand, maybe Neymar can play like Tom Jobim sang and do it for the full ninety minutes.

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Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage